Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Merlin, Episode 1.1, "The Dragon's Call"

BBC Wales, the production company responsible for Doctor Who and Torchwood, moves from science fiction to fantasy with Merlin, a new television series about the legendary wizard's teenaged years as he meets the future King Arthur for the first time.

The cast includes Colin Morgan (Jethro Cane in the Doctor Who episode "Midnight") as Merlin, Bradley James as Prince Arthur, Anthony Stewart Head as King Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson (Doctor Who: "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances") as court physician Gaius, Angel Coulby (Doctor Who: "The Girl in the Fireplace") as Guinevere, Katie McGrath as Morgana, and John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon.

Merlin is the creation of Hex co-creator Julian Jones, Hex producers Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, and Jake Michie. Doctor Who and Torchwood executive producer Julie Gardner serves in the same capacity here, as the show is co-produced by BBC Wales and Shine Entertainment (Hex). It's filmed on location in Wales and France.

This first episode is crisply directed by James Hawes (Doctor Who: "The Empty Child," "The Doctor Dances," and "School Reunion"), and the teleplay by co-creator/showrunner Julian Jones quickly introduces the main characters, while setting up both the series arc and this episode's entertaining story. Visual effect company The Firm (Doctor Who, Torchwood) once again does some remarkable work on a television budget with the CGI Great Dragon and some other effects. Torchwood's Eve Myles guest stars as the enchanting Lady Helen.

In some ways, it can be described as the Smallville of the Arthurian mythos. It has a photogenic cast, it explores the younger years of a well-known character with some revision of canon, and there's sure to be some occasional angst. On the level it's intended, it's ripping good fun.

Serious admirers of the Arthurian mythos might howl in protest, but this is about entertainment, and it does what it's supposed to do extremely well. It's well-made, well-acted, and a fun way to spend forty-five minutes. I like Merlin.

For those in the US without access to torrents, NBC will broadcast the first season beginning in early 2009, albeit in a slightly edited form.

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